03 Nov 2 Seas Agency Returns to the Frankfurt Book Fair
By Marleen Seegers — article first published in November 2021
It was an event we’d been looking forward to more than anything: the 2021 Frankfurt Book Fair.
2021 Frankfurt Book Fair: A very European (af)fair
After having been glued to our screens for over 18 months for virtual meetings via Zoom/Teams/Google Meet/WebEx/Skype and whatnot, it was finally going to happen: we were about to meet some of our publishing friends again in person!
I’d like to emphasize the words some of: it was mainly a European fair, with the presence of the occasional US scout and publisher (I’m thinking of you, Michael Wise).
I don’t count myself as an American here; prior to traveling to Frankfurt, I took the opportunity to finally visit my close relatives again in the South of the Netherlands, whom I hadn’t seen since the beginning of March 2020. I also traveled to Amsterdam to meet with a few Dutch editors — and to ease into the in-person meeting-thing again after having lived in my California bubble for so long! By the time I reached Frankfurt, I’d been fully re-Europeanized.
Cyprus-based Sr Agent Chrysothemis and I hadn’t seen each other since the 2019 Frankfurt Book Fair. We’d introduced the remote office long before it became a widespread business structure during the pandemic. I’d booked our table in the LitAg very early on: being present at the 2021 Frankfurt Book Fair and seeing her was of utmost importance!
We started our meetings on Tuesday afternoon at the Frankfurter Hof, where I finally discovered the color of the furniture. While it wasn’t crowded, we did get to have several chance encounters. One of these encounters even led to a deal — more on that later on!
Our 10th anniversary: champagne, please!
The agency celebrated its 10th anniversary this summer and due to last year’s absence, this was also our 10th Frankfurt Book Fair attendance. To mark the occasion, Chrys decorated our tables with flags and balloons. This didn’t go by unnoticed by the LitAg organization: on Wednesday morning they surprised us with a celebratory bottle of champagne, courtesy of the Frankfurt Book Fair!
Usually, this bottle is presented for 25th anniversary celebrations, but they said that this was such a particular year, and they wanted to seize every opportunity to celebrate. I couldn’t agree more!
We ended up booking a second table after many European editors decided, often very last-minute, to attend the fair. Given the current safety concerns, sharing a table wasn’t an option. Although the LitAg was much quieter than usual, Chrys and I both had full schedules on Wednesday and Thursday. We even barely had time to eat our lunch, which -almost- brought a touch of nostalgia for the good ol’ pre-pandemic days…
On Friday, when Chrys was already on the plane back to Cyprus, my meetings lasted till 5pm. I was so busy that I almost forgot to pop the champagne bottles — yes, that’s right, bottles: Nicolas Roche, Managing Director of the Bureau International de l’Edition française (and previous podcast guest!) stopped by to offer us some more bubbles on Thursday.
Grateful to be there
Without the usual buzzing background noise and interruptions caused by the constant flow of people walking past our tables, our meetings were very focused and the discussions were deep and engaged.
No need to be talking loudly to make ourselves heard; we didn’t lose our voice this time which was a pleasant side-effect.
Despite concerns regarding the shortage of paper voiced by many, if not all, publishers we spoke to, the overall spirit was uplifted. Everyone Chrys and I met was simply grateful to be there, and the publishing world is doing relatively well. Regrettably, some (independent) bookstores did not survive the restrictions and lockdowns that many governments imposed throughout 2020 and part of 2021. Yet the economic impact on the book market seems to be much less severe than anticipated and books have found an increasing number of readers.
Guest of Honor: Canada
Canada got another chance at being the fair’s Guest of Honor, after last year’s fair went fully digital (listen to my podcast interview with Gillian Fizet, Executive Director of Canada FBM2020/21, recorded just after the digital 2020 Frankfurt Book Fair).
Several Canadian publishers and literary agents made the journey across the pond, and the country had two large booths, one for English language and one for French language publishing. Read more about the interest garnered for French-language titles from Canada in this Publishing Perspectives article.
Esther Yi’s Y/N: our title of the Fair
We even had a true Book Fair Title: after a spontaneous meeting at the Frankfurter Hof on Tuesday, Edizioni E/O’s Eva Ferri preempted Italian rights to Esther Yi’s Y/N (tentative title), which 2 Seas represents on behalf of US publisher Astra House. Eva’s colleague Christopher Potter at Europa Editions had previously preempted UK & British Commonwealth rights, excl. Canada.
Here’s what both have to say about Y/N:
“It’s an astonishing debut. Unlike anything I’ve ever read before. I certainly loved the voice right from the off, and laughed out loud with delight at several sentences. I adore both the bonkerness of it and the novel’s deep seriousness, more Kafka than magic realism, but with more humour, perhaps more like Lewis Carroll in that the author conjures up an entirely plausible parallel reality.” — Christopher Potter, Editorial Director, Europa Editions UK
“I was so delighted to hear the huge excitement in Christopher’s voice when he first told me about Y/N, and despite travelling to Frankfurt for the book fair, as soon as I started reading it I could not put it down. This means a series of very long nights in the company of one of the most refreshing, brilliant new voices I have had the chance to encounter in ages. Y/N by Esther Yi is such a remarkable book which poses deep questions about what we love, and how” — Eva Ferri, Publisher, Edizioni E/O
I’d barely accepted the Italian preempt in between two meetings, when editors from various countries came flocking to our tables to ask us about this intriguing debut novel they’d been hearing such good things about. Scouts started emailing us, asking for the manuscript. It was an amazing feeling to see this come about so organically and spontaneously; this can only happen during a physical book fair!
Kudos to the FBF Organization
A big thank you goes out to the 2021 Frankfurt Book Fair organization for pulling it off so well, while facing such heavy constraints and many uncertainties up to the very last minute. We were truly impressed.
It was definitely not the same atmosphere as before the pandemic. Many people could not attend, and they were sorely missed. Yet in spite of these circumstances, the 2021 Frankfurt Book Fair was one of the best fairs I’ve attended in my career. The pure joy I felt to be back!
Last but not least: Chrys’s impressions
I gladly end this article with Sr Agent Chrys’s impressions of the 2021 Frankfurt Book Fair:
“It’s incredible how many things have changed over the past two years both personally (proud mum of a 10-month old girl) and professionally (growing team and responsibilities at 2 Seas Agency); and how many things still felt the same once back at the fair. I flew to Frankfurt for 2 days of meetings and felt that time had stopped.
It was just me and Marleen again, reunited after 2 years apart, on a familiar ground, surrounded by colleagues and friends from all over the world. Happy faces, warm hearts, catching up about everything and anything, and talking lively about books.
A quieter fair, a shorter stay, but full of wonderful encounters, good vibes, great energy and positive attitude. It was like we rebooted again, and got a fresh start, and it felt like we were reliving our first Frankfurt!”
I couldn’t agree more…
Some further impressions of our 2021 Frankfurt Book Fair week: